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NCC Buys Insertion Gear

National Cable Communications last week announced a multimillion-dollar order of SeaChange International Inc.'s digital ad-insertion equipment, as the spot-cable rep firm's Consolidated Interconnect initiative took another major step forward.

NCC's goal is to enable advertisers to buy cable time in any of the top 100 DMAs with a single order.

Last week's order was "in the neighborhood of $3 million," said NCC CEO Tom Olson. The commitment covered six markets and, over the long term, could be "in excess of $20 million," depending on the number of DMAs participating.

The first two markets, Providence, R.I., and Hartford, Conn., were slated to go online in September and October. Olson said that timetable was pushed back a month for further testing and traffic-and-billing training.

Buffalo, N.Y., is next on the Consolidated Interconnect's list, in December, with Grand Rapids, Mich., due in December or January, followed by the Carolinas. Should an Adelphia Communications Corp. deal to buy Cablevision Systems Corp.'s Cleveland system close in November, that city could follow in February.

The initial idea was to also include nCUBE Corp. in markets where its equipment is deployed. But Olson said NCC now will use SeaChange gear and software jointly developed by nCUBE and Video Networks Inc. for Charter Communications Inc.'s own recently unveiled interconnect plan.

NCC might use nCUBE in DMAs where it is the sole insertion vendor, he added.

The goal is to make spot cable "the easiest media to buy, ahead of broadcast and print alternatives," Olson said.

SeaChange vice president of advertising systems James Kelso said last Friday that automating the first three markets could take two or three years, at a price tag of $10 million to $20 million.

Under NCC's plan, ad agencies would be able to send taped commercials for encoding to the rep firm's "superheadend," located in Bloomfield, N.J.

NCC uses SeaChange's automated software-management system and Hughes Network Systems' two-way (VSAT) satellite network to connect the facility with hundreds of SeaChange servers in the top 100 markets.

The rep firm also can use the system to retrieve verification of on-air spot playback and bill the agency.